A friend, a new Christian, once asked me what happened to Jesus after he was resurrected from the dead. I started to explain, best I could.
“Well, he hung out with friends—appeared here and there, did a few miracles—and then, one day, he sort of, well, the Bible says that he…flew away? Up in the sky? To Heaven?”
I stumbled through this story with the confidence of a third-grader delivering his first oral report, realizing as I told the story how very stupid I sounded. Try as I might, in my mind’s eye, Jesus’ ascension to heaven can’t look anything but silly.
This is not the first time I wrestled with this story. As a very young boy, I had a letter published in our local newspaper regarding my religion. Shortly thereafter, I received a deeply unpleasant letter from an anonymous skeptic who used all manner of crude terms to tell me that I was idiot. His chief proof of this was the Ascension of Jesus. Even if Jesus flew away at the speed of light, this man reasoned, or twice the speed of light, he would have yet to traverse even a fraction of universe we’ve observed, let along traverse its distant boundaries into the celestial realms.
“And this is how Jesus planned to get back to ‘Heaven?'” he challenged me, in the only hand-written note by writing has ever warranted. “By flying?”
Some of the Bible’s miracles inspire. That parting of the Red Sea is the sort of miracle that people talk about, make movies about. And there’s the giddy delight that the feeding of the five-thousand inspires. Imagine Jesus, tossing bread to laughing children faster than they can eat it.
But then there’s the talking donkeys (Numbers 22), the attack bears (2 Kings 2), and flying Jesus. Stories that are no more incredible than any other in the Bible, but take a little more faith owing to their bizarreness.
And, if I’m being honest, I don’t think it’s my faith that’s tested here. It’s the upraised eyebrows, the polite nods, the condescension. It’s the fear of being seen as one of those Christians. It’s the fact that, when someone asks what happened to Jesus after the resurrection, I don’t know how to tell them that he flew up to Heaven without sounding like an idiot.
There’s no way to sound like a cool Christian with one of these things. You can be loving and accepting. You can be globally aware and politically conscious. But just try explaining the virgin birth to a skeptic. You’ll sound like an old pirate, fixing his one glittery eye on a tactful landlubber. “And the Virgin Mary grew with child, just like the angel told her!”
They almost certainly will be polite—even interested—but you’d best abandon any hope of seeming normal. That option isn’t exactly left open to you.
God never never intended it to be. In Corinthians, Paul notes that “God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” Not without irony, that, since so many of the foolish things he’s referring to are in the Bible that Paul factors into so heavily.
The point, perhaps, is that the Bible wasn’t made with movie moments in mind. God didn’t design his miracles to suit my conveniences any more that he designed nature to suit them. God’s a redeemer. Not a show-off.